Mohammad Javad Zarif .jpg
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister.
Photograph: Photo by Max Talbot-Minkin, used under CC BY

It is time to shape the EU-Iran relationship beyond the nuclear deal struck last year, said top EU and Iranian officials in Tehran on Saturday, as they met to discuss deeper economic and political cooperation.

Standing alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the visit could go down as the first chapter in a "new beginning" between the two sides.

Relations have thawed since Tehran signed a deal with world powers to curb its nuclear activities. In return, Iran secured the removal of economic sanctions, including bans on oil and gas exports and the isolation of the country from the international banking system.

Zarif and Mogherini's agenda covered new economic ties, including Iran's possible entry into the World Trade Organization, along with regional security issues, the opening of an EU mission in Iran and human rights.

But the nuclear agreement continued to be a main focus of interest in the one-day talks, especially the parts of the deal yet to be fully implemented.

"It is obvious that the Iranian people want to see the impacts of the agreement in their daily life," Zarif said at a joint press conference with Mogherini.

"It is therefore necessary that especially the US fulfils its commitments not only on paper and removes the hurdles with regards to the banking system," he said.

Mogherini, who said she went to Tehran "to do some substantial work," also emphasized the nuclear deal's impact on ordinary Iranians.

"My message last time was diplomacy will work," said Mogherini, noting that it was her second trip to the country in nine months. "Now my message is diplomacy is working."

She travelled with EU commissioners in charge of industry, transport, energy, research, science, education, culture, humanitarian aid and the environment.

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was called away at short notice to Ankara and was unable to meet the EU delegation.

Ahead of the visit, Amnesty International urged the EU's top diplomat "to condemn outright the mushrooming use of the death penalty in the country," saying 977 people had been executed in 2015.

"The European delegation's trip must show Iran that renewed relations between the EU and Tehran hinge on the respect and protection of human rights in the country - not merely on what business opportunities are available," said Amnesty's Iverna McGowan in a statement.

The EU still has sanctions in place against Iran over human rights concerns. But the EU did not request a meeting with Iranian civil society representatives because of the shortness of the visit, a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity.

"Human rights sanctions are different from nuclear-related sanctions, which have all been lifted. Human rights disagreements should be settled through dialogue and engagement," Mogherini said.

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